RAFAEL Nadal’s astonishing US Open triumph over Kevin Anderson on Monday morning was as impressive as it was worrying.
His 16th grand slam title puts him second on the list of male stars with the most major singles crowns — three behind great rival Roger Federer. Nadal’s Flushing Meadows success also meant he and Federer were responsible for cleaning up at each of the year’s four grand slams.
For the second time — and the first since 2007 — the tennis legends won two majors each in a calendar year. Federer won the Australian Open and Wimbledon while Nadal won his 10th French Open crown in 2017 before his US Open victory.
It’s a remarkable story. Federer’s win at Melbourne Park was the first time he’s lifted the winner’s trophy at a slam since 2012 and came after he spent months on the sideline with a knee injury. Nadal’s career looked like it had stalled permanently because of wrist and knee injuries but his form in 2017 has been extraordinary.
The good news story that is the veterans showing there’s life left in them yet also brings with it a tale of caution. As good as they are, that a 36-year-old (Federer) and 31-year-old (Nadal) can win the 2017 Grand Slam between them is an indictment on the rest of the tennis world and Generation Next.
Aussie youngsters Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios faltered early in New York, impressive 20-year-old Alexander Zverev (who’s been on fire recently) lost in the second round, Austria’s Dominic Thiem (24) blew a two-sets-to-love lead against Juan Martin del Potro in the round of 16 and Grigor Dimitrov (26) suffered a second round loss.
Their failures were exacerbated because of how open this year’s US Open draw was. Top players Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka were missing, but still no new faces could make a meaningful dent (bar 26-year-old semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta, but he’s still ranked No. 10 in the world).
If ever there was a tournament to grab by the scruff of the neck, it was the US Open.
Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov was the best of the young brigade, continuing his recent rich vein of form to win two qualifiers before advancing to the round of 16.
“Who is going to burst out of the scene and finally show that they’re capable and will win grand slams?” tennis legend John McEnroe said.
“Zverev, what type of advance will he make next year because he stepped into the top 10 and, it’s true, it looked like the draw here (opened up for him) to get into a first grand slam final. It wasn’t to be. He’s going to have to step it up.”
Anderson, 31, journeyman del Potro, 28 and Carreno Busta, 26, rounded out the final four in the Big Apple. It was a continuation of a theme we saw during the year as older players dominated.
Dimitrov made the semis in Australia along with Andy Murray, Federer and Nadal. The Scot, Wawrinka and Thiem comprised the French Open final quartet alongside Nadal and 28-year-old Marin Cilic, 31-year-old Tomas Berdych and 29-year-old American Sam Querrey joined Federer in the Wimbledon semi-finals.
After defeating Mikhail Youzhny at Flushing Meadows, Federer cast doubt over when Generation Next would truly take over.
“I think it’s going to be very interesting. The changing of the guard is going to come at some stage. It could very well be next year, but I still predict it’s going to take a few more (years),” he said.
That observation came on the back of similar comments the Swiss maestro made at the All England Club in July.
“Every generation definitely is different,” Federer said. “Since my generation and Rafa’s generation, the next one hasn’t been strong enough to push all of us out really, so that has been helpful for us to stick around.”
On what we’ve seen this year — highlighted by the year’s final slam — Federer’s lack of faith in Generation Next to overtake him and Nadal anytime soon is well founded.
Don’t get us wrong — Federer and Nadal’s continued dominance is a fantastic story that should be celebrated. How they’ve pushed through injury and defied age this year is remarkable and nothing should downplay their achievements.
But with every trophy they win, the shadow tennis’s stars-in-waiting are walking in becomes even darker.
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